Friday, April 8, 2011


I know this is almost 2 months late, I'm lazy and then we had an earthquake. When we moved to Misawa, all we heard about were cherry blossoms and the Sapporo Snow Festival. We got to Misawa too late that first year to get tickets to the snow festival and John was deployed last year, so this year I was ready the day tickets went on sale and I told John that I'd go without him if need be. We booked a trip through the base that included an overnight ferry trip there and back, plus one night in a hotel in Sapporo. (We live on Honshu island and Sapporo is on Hokkaido, an island to our North.) Our friends David and Yazmin ended up getting on the same trip so we were able to book a room with them on the ferries so we didn't have to sleep in the 'cattle pen' with everyone else. We left on a Sunday evening and rode on a bus to Hachinohe, where we boarded the ferry. John, David and Yazmin were kind enough to wander the boat while I got Annelise to sleep and we woke up just in time to see the ferry pulling up to the dock on Hokkaido. We were bussed to a hotel for breakfast, which was a pretty typical Japanese breakfast. So of course, I didn't eat much there, I'm not really one for fish or rice for breakfast. Thankfully, I had packed some snacks so we were prepared for a breakfast of our own on the bus. Then we took the bus to Otaru, a city on the northwestern side of the island. Otaru was a beautiful, snow-covered city and is known for music boxes and blown glass. The snow was a little crazy there, we collected over an inch on Annelise's stroller in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes. She fell asleep while we browsed around the city and I found a beautiful vase in a glass shop that matches a vase that John bought for me a while back. We were VERY tempted to buy some amazing cheesecake, but we knew that there were many other yummy treats ahead. We stopped at a small food stand with a heated tent where we could sit and ate potatoes on a stick, some sort of yummy fried potato/cheese concoction, and a curry dumpling thingy. We also had delicious hot chocolate and lavender ice cream!! I actually got a cone that had lavender, milk, and melon flavors, while David got one with 2 extra flavors. My favorite was the lavender and the melon was my least favorite. Then we got back on the bus and went to Sapporo to check into the hotel. Our hotel was in a great location, only a block or two from the ice sculptures, one more block from Mister Donut, and very close to an underground mall that we could walk through to get to the snow sculptures. That afternoon, we ate at Mister Donut (it's just so delicious there!) and looked at the ice sculptures, then we went to the Sapporo Bier Garten for a delicious dinner of lamb, seafood, and veggies with all you can drink beer or soda. We really enjoyed the food and Annelise learned how to toast in Japanese, saying 'Kampai!' and clinking her sippy cup with the tour guide's mug of beer over and over again. After we got back from the beer garden, we met up with a few people that we had made friends with on our bus and speed-walked through the underground mall to get to Odori Park to see the snow sculptures lit up at night. We only had 20 minutes or so before they turned the lights out, so we rushed through so we could see all of them. I was in awe of those sculptures, they were GIGANTIC!! Each sculpture was the size of a good-sized building, with a stage in front for various musical performances. There were also a ton of smaller sculptures, including recognizable characters (both Japanese and American), a baseball player (possibly Sammy Sosa), and a Nobel Prize winner. On Tuesday morning (Tuesday already?), we ate breakfast at our hotel; it was a much more Americanized meal and we all left with our bellies full. We then hopped on the subway to a chocolate factory that was on the other side of town. When we got out of the subway station, we had nowhere to go so I stopped a large group of people to ask (in my very limited Japanese) where the factory was. Earlier in the trip I had told John and the Arroyos to remember that just because someone is white, they may not be American/speak English because this is an internationally renowned festival. I had to eat my own words when I found out that the man I was trying to speak Japanese to was from Hong Kong and currently lives in Canada!! Thankfully, he spoke both Japanese and English and was leading a tour group from Hong Kong who was also trying to find the chocolate factory, so we followed them the few blocks to the factory. Now, this was not a Hershey's-style factory, they don't make candy. They make adorable little Japanese desserts and cookies and we got to look in on the assembly line and the history of chocolate-making. We also each received a sample of the signature cookie, Shiroi Koibito. A Shiroi Koibito is two thin cookies with a thin chocolate filling; kind of like a Milano, but better. We were all tired and hungry by that time, so we went to the cafe inside the factory for delicious desserts and THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE EVER. EVER. We bought a tin of cookies and two little cans of hot chocolate to take home with us, we've been rationing the cookies and neither one of us is allowed to have one unless the other has one too. That's how good they are. And the hot chocolate has ruined me for all other hot chocolate. Before we went back to the subway station, we stopped at another gift shop attached to the factory and mailed post cards to ourselves and a few other people. Once we got back on the Subway, we basically collapsed and rested in anticipation of checking out the snow sculptures again. The sculptures were amazing at night, but they were even better during the day because it was easier to see some of the details. We took our time that day and had a lot of fun taking pictures and being silly, then we shopped a little for souvenirs and ate ramen before getting back on the bus for the trip home. The ramen was delicious, it was actually my first time eating actual ramen in Japan. I know, I've lived there for over 2 years, but we just don't go out to eat very often and John is gone so much, plus Annelise is just now at the age where she can eat something like ramen so I don't have to worry about bringing extra food for her. We got back to the hotel just in time to get on the bus and the ferry trip back to Hachinohe was a little more difficult than the trip over because Annelise did NOT want to go to sleep. All in all, we had a great trip. I'm glad that David and Yazmin were able to go with us. I didn't get as many family pictures as I would have liked because Annelise napped at awkward times, and I didn't find a kokeshi doll that (to me) represented Sapporo, but we made some great memories and checked and important trip off of our list. Now it's time to gear up for our second try at Fuji and a possible trip to Hawaii in the fall!